Wednesday, 20 July 2011

WT Stead the father of tabloid journalism- Leek 1899

The crusading editor WT Stead spoke at an anti Boer War rally in Leek in October 1899. It was an unruly affair with taunts and fists flying between pro and anti war protestors. An interesting man Stead. He was a strong supporter of women’s rights and was proud that he was amongst the first employers in the country to pay women the same as men. He also believed that he was a reincarnated Charles II. Stead died on the Titanic so even at the end he had a nose for a good story. But it is in his role as the creator of the New Journalism essentially the pioneer of investigative journalism that he should be recognised.

In 1885 and acting with the Salvation Army, he uncovered a trade in child prostitution in the London underworld. He was shocked to find that the government knew of the problem but turned a blind eye to protect the trade's wealthy clientele. Stead’s crusading journalism led to an unprecedented outcry and the government forced to legislate to raise the female age of consent from 13 to 16.

Good journalism according to Stead "to be used on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the oppressed." Since his time there have been many examples of investigative journalism that has spoke truth to power. The Sunday Times campaign on behalf of thalidomide victims which involved Stoke South MP Jack Ashley in the 70s. Veronica Guerin who combined her accounting and journalism skills to expose Dublin drug dealers who murdered her. The Telegraph and MP expenses scandal.

Such journalism has a role to play and I fear that in the understandable panic over the hacking scandal this might be lost sight of.

Stead wrote "Society...outwardly, indeed, appears white and glistening, but within is full of dead men's bones and rottenness".

The media whether old or new has a role in rooting out corruption, but the problem over recent years is not too investigation but not enough. By investigation, I mean the dogged extraction of facts that those with power would wish to conceal. Investigative journalism has for years been in decline perhaps it needs a reincarnated Stead.